Every month, Writer's Edit selects one work to feature as our Poem of the Month. This year we're going behind the scenes of the writing to discuss inspirations and influences with the authors themselves.
I chatted to Los Angeles 'Poet Punk' and Kindling II author, Ruth Christopher, whose prose poem 'Marc Antony' was highlighted as our February Poem of the Month.
How long have you been writing, and what are your accomplishments so far?
I was four when I discovered reading and I started keeping a journal when I was eight. Shortly after that I began writing a weekly newspaper about our family for my oldest sister who moved across the country for college.
I mostly journalled and did academic writing up until about three years ago when I started writing poetry and I’ve begun reading/performing poetry at different events around L.A. in the last six months or so, which has been huge for my growth as a writer and as a person.
My friend Bri and I along with a couple of other friends from school started a sort of informal group called the ‘Poet Punks’ last semester and that has come to occupy a huge area of my head and heart spaces since then.
The Punks spam each other with rhymes on a daily basis, go to events together, and generally watch out for each other. We have our own t-shirts now, which basically makes us a poetry gang, ha!
I was recently chosen as the Spoken Word/Music Editor of the student literary publication at my school and I’m excited to help the Moorpark Review transition from being more of a traditional book of original work by student writers to a multi-media platform of expression for student artists that includes poets — both spoken word and traditional — painters, photographers, essayists, storytellers, musicians, etc.
I’m also working on a new collection of poems called Condoms and Wine Corks, of which ‘Marc Antony’ is a selection.
It’s a collection of Bukowski-esque musings on love, sex, and gender relations in Los Angeles. I’ve got a blog in the works as well; it’s a humour blog called ‘Uncle Ruth’s Sex Tips’. Feel free to write to me with all your most ridiculous questions!
Where did your inspiration for 'Marc Antony' come from? The female character has some bite to her – how did she evolve as you wrote?
I like to people-watch around my city and write down bits of conversation or characteristics and then let those shape the narratives I create. ‘Marc Antony’ is one such narrative I discovered in Orange County.
I think the narrative of a woman doing questionable things to 'make it' or care for herself or handle certain situations or what have you in our society is one that we’re pretty familiar with. I also think a lot of those narratives tend to be written with a male bias or slant.
What interests me is what’s going on in the head of the female in those types of situations.
It’s sort of an extended imagination that began with the wonder, ‘what would Bukowski have written if he were a woman living in today’s world?’
The female in ‘Marc Antony’ definitely evolved as I wrote her. At first it was taking shape as victim story but then as I wrote it I realized that it’s not a victim story.
The female speaker is someone who is frustrated at the situation she finds herself in and is pragmatic enough, not to mention gutsy enough, to make the most of it.
She’s quick on the uptake; she realizes that she can get what she needs so she gets it. At the same time, she’s not always aware of the costs of getting what she needs, which are actually quite high — so she does what she can to ease that pain and discovers again that that’s more than you’d think.
I intentionally wrote the poem in first person so it’d have more of an emotional impact on the reader, involve them in the action of the narrative more closely, and invite them to ask themselves, ‘what would I do if I were in such a situation?’
Why did you choose the prose poem form for ‘Marc Antony’, instead of a free-form or metered poem?
Writing poetry for me tends to be a very organic, intuitive process; I’m very flexible in my approach. Usually I’ll have an idea or a line or a concept that will come to me and I’ll just start writing it and let it take on whatever rhyme/meter/structure lends itself most naturally to the idea I’m trying to verbally embody.
‘Marc Antony’ felt more like a narrative to me than anything else, so it came to be in prose form.
Who are your literary influences? What are your favourite, must-read books?
I’ve always loved reading; shout out to my parents who read to me every day as a child — in Spanish and in English. The Bible, Shakespeare, and Plato were mostly where I hung out in high school when I wasn’t reading Lewis, Christie, Tolkien, or Sayers.
One of my current favourites is Love Is a Dog from Hell by Bukowski and I’ve recently discovered the work of current poets Andrea Gibson and Brendan Constantine who are fairly revered around L.A.
Authors and works that have shaped my thinking process in significant ways include: Shel Silverstein, Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy, and Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.
Poets whose influence has been more stylistic: Bukowski, Eliot, Seuss, J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, old school hip hop artists like 2Pac, Biggie, KRS1, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, etc.
I’m weird because I’ve read a lot of stuff on my own and for school so I have classical ideas and vocabulary at my disposal but I also love hip hop and a lot of my poetry is stylistically much more similar to rap.
I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions but I always make a To-Read list for the year. In 2016 I’m going to be mostly hanging out in Russian literature: Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago; Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov; & Tolstoy’s Confession (which I read every year actually), and what I haven’t yet read of Shakespeare (a few comedies and most of the histories).
My writing partner lent me Game of Thrones which is still in my backpack a week later. That’s on the list too now.
What advice would you give to other writers? What’s the best lesson you’ve learned?
Writing is not just something you do because you find yourself in an 'artsy' mood; don’t be that type of writer. Write when you feel like you have nothing to say, when you’re tired, elated — the point is to WRITE.
I’ve made it a habit to write three pages of Stream of Consciousness every day. What I write in those pages is for me; there’s no judgment, there’s no self-censure.
All I require myself to do is show up to the pages and write. I find that it’s something of a paradox: when I remove the burden of expected perfection from myself, I do some of my best work.
A lot of my SOC (stream of consciousness) writing is absolute rubbish that I’m never going to use for anything but a lot of it is stuff that I end up reading at open mic nights and actually, the poem selected to be in the Kindling II anthology was originally from my daily SOC pages.
Of course, all writers are different but that is my process and it’s worked well for me. I would encourage any authors who are in a bit of a slump to give it a go and see if maybe it helps them as well.
I find that it not only helps with writing process but it also deepens your connection with your authentic creative self at the core of who you are.
My advice to fellow poets: we can tend to be very sensitive about our work and that’s okay but especially if you want to get into performing and being published you need to learn to accept & respond to criticism without taking it personally.
The process of thickening your skin is painful; embrace it. Metabolize pain as energy and keep trying.